Category Archives: Sports Militaria

Military Veterans Aiming for Gold: Collecting Olympics Militaria

On the cusp of the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, I find myself scouring the United States team roster in search of service members (current and former) who are making their way to the icy and snowy venues for this year’s competition. Undoubtedly, as the television production of the games progresses, there will be some special interest stories aired that will cover certain members of Team USA who endured and overcame challenges within their sport on their paths to making the US Olympic Team.

Veteran Rank Unit Branch Sport
Weber, Nathan SFC 10th Special Forces Group Army 4-Man Bobsled
Olsen, Justin SGT NYNG 4-Man Bobsled
Cunningham, Nick SGT 1156 ENG CO NYNG 4-Man Bobsled
Fogt, Chris CAPT Military Intelligence Army 4-Man Bobsled
Sweeney, Emily SGT Military Police ANG Luge
Mortensen, Matt SGT Army Luge

When the spotlight of NBC’s coverage shines upon the sledding events (bobsled, luge and skeleton), those feel-good stories very well could include one of more vignettes of the six team USA members who temporarily laid aside their military uniforms in exchange for the read, white and blue skin suits, helmets and spikes for the sledding competition at the Alpensia Sliding Center. Having active duty service personnel and veterans filling spots on Olympics rosters is not a new occurrence for the 2018 team. Some American Olympic competitors were merely civilian, amateur athletes heading into their competitions as was the case with the subject of one of the most compelling and difficult stories of World War II of the experiences of a Southern California track star.

In her 2010 biography, Unbroken, author Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling work extensively details the life of United States Army Air Force captain, Louis Zamperini and the challenges he faced in the nearly unbelievable life-story. In short, the B-24 that Zamperini was a crew member of, experienced mechanical failures and crashed into the Pacific some 850 miles south of the Hawaiin Islands. Of the 11 crew members, Ernie and two others escaped and spent a harrowing 47 days adrift (one man died) before being picked up by the Japanese. Zamperini would endure two and a half years as a guest of the Emperor of Japan suffering unspeakable abuses, starvation and torture (see the 2014 adapted film, Unbroken).

What does Zamperini have to do with the Olympics? Louis “The Torrence Tornado” Zamperini was a star distance runner from the University of Southern California who placed 8th in the 5,000 meter at the Berlin games in 1936, under Hitler’s watchful eye. Because of his performance at the ’36 games, the Japanese discovered his identity and used his stardom to become the focus of their torture and hatred.

George Patton during the running event of the 1912 Modern Pentathlon (image source:

Patton (at right) fencing (vs Jean de Mas Latrie of France) in the modern pentathlon of the 1912 Summer Olympics (public domain image).

Zamperini’s story aside, I wondered how many U.S. Olympic athletes served in combat. One veteran comes to mind that, for me, has a direct connection to a piece of militaria in my collection. This Olympian finished 5th in the Modern Pentathlon at the 1912 Stockholm summer games behind four Swedes who dominated the event. Second Lieutenant George S. Patton did manage to stir some controversy with the shooting event, opting to use a .38 caliber pistol rather than the more conventional .22-cal. While officially placing 20th, Patton claimed that the rounds which counted as misses had passed through his preceding target strikes. Nevertheless, his low shooting score helped to keep him out of medal contention.

One veteran who competed in two Olympics (1960 Rome and 1964 Tokyo games) as a race walker, has the rare distinction of having been killed in action in the Viet Nam War. West Point graduate (class of 1962), Captain Ronald Zinn, while serving with the 173rd Airborne Division, was killed on July 7, 1965 in a firefight near Saigon. His best Olympic performance was in Tokyo where he placed 6th while competing for his native country, Brazil.

During the summer games in Rio, spectators watched in awe of Michael Phelps’ return to the pool as he racked up five more gold and another silver medal to his already-established record of 22 total. Phelps finished his career with 23 gold, three silver and two bronze medals setting him ahead of the next best (Larisa Latynina of the USSR – 18 total). The all-time greatest Winter Olympic athlete, Ole Einar Bjørndalen, a biathlete from Norway (with 13 medals) has less than half of Phelp’s total. One stat that many Americans will most certainly not know is that prior to Mark Spitz winning his 11th medal at the 1972 games, the sole medal-count (male) leader for the United States was a U.S. Navy veteran.

Naval Academy graduate (class of 1907), Carl Osburn, competed in three Olympic games (Stockholm 1912, Antwerp 1920 and Paris 1924) earning five gold, four silver and two bronze medals in several rifle shooting events. One is left to wonder how many more Osburn would have earned had the 1916 Berlin games not been cancelled due to World War I. In 1936, while in transit from one duty station to another, my uncle was aboard the USS Henderson (AP-1) when Captain Carl Osburn was serving as the ship’s commanding officer which (very) loosely connects pieces of my militaria collection to this Olympic medalist.

Trying to find pieces that cross both militaria and Olympics-collecting can be quite a daunting, if not expensive pursuit for collectors. Due to the extremely small number who competed in the games, anything stemming from one of these veterans will rarely be available for purchase.

One crossover aspect (of these two collecting genres) that I appreciate…and is affordable…is the application of the five rings of the Olympic logo on military-related items. I found a handful of aviation squadron patches that either commemorated the games of a specific year or used the logo in a tongue-in-cheek manner.

These patches definitely interest me and leave me searching the web for theater-made Olympic themed patches that might surface from the returning Afghanistan veterans.

Though the games have yet to begin, the nation that is the heavy favorite to bring home the most hardware is Germany due to the IOC-ban that will exclude the 2014 victor, Russia (as a competing nation) due to their systemic cheating via doping (though a smattering of athletes will be allowed to compete if they are determined to be “clean”). The US team is predicted to finish in fourth place behind Norway and Canada, respectively. I will be watching with great hopes that our sledding teams bring home hardware but more importantly, that they honor both their Team USA and Army uniforms.

See more on U.S. troops competing in the 2018 Winter Games:

2018 Winter Olympics: USA Bobsledders, Soldiers have experience on their side

Military police Soldier leads Army’s charge onto 2018 U.S. Olympic Team

Army, we have a bobsled team!

My Signature Soapbox: Veterans of Valor Autograph Collecting

One of my favorite Medal of Honor recipient autographs is this one from Colonel Gregory “Pappy” Boyington.

For the current 2017 Major League Baseball season, twenty four players will earn $21,000,000 or more to play the game. Of those, two pitchers; David Price, Boston Red Sox and Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers will earn $30m and $33m (respectively) to collect “outs” for their teams throughout the season (and post-season).

Being the huge baseball fan that I am, I do understand that the MLB season is gruelingly long at 162 games and half of them are on the road, visiting cities stretching across the United States and into Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Life on the road is difficult and has considerable impact on family life with all the time away. While the season typically starts in late March to early April, for the players, it actually begins in February with spring training. If the team makes it to postseason play, that means they are working from mid-February to late October.

Many athletes’ families do not live in the city in which they are playing, further adding to the separation challenges. Players routinely miss out on birthdays, anniversaries and other family gatherings. For roughly eight months of the year, these athletes are subjected to air travel (some aboard chartered team jets) and the nicest hotel rooms. While on road trips, team equipment managers pack and unpack their gear, ensure that their baggage is in their hotel rooms when they arrive and picked up when they depart the various cities.

Meeting 12 of the surviving members of the Blacksheep of VMF-214 was a thrill for me. Ace, Lt. Colonel (Pappy Boyington’s wingman) was quite amusing as he and his wife “attempted” to steal my baby daughter, snickering and laughing as he wheeled her stroller away. All that I had to get signed was this book by notable author, Barrett Tillman.

During batting practice and pre-game warm-ups, fans arrive early for the chance at obtaining the autograph of their favorite players on a baseball card, ball or scorecard. Autograph hounds seek out the stars of the game to get as many items signed as possible, even hiring kids to obtain as many signatures of the game’s elite players as possible. Autographs of the stars command premium prices when sold on the market. Many of the stars understand this part of the business (yes, the game of baseball is a business) and choose only to sign at arranged events where they are paid fees, commanding thousands of dollars, further padding their multi-million dollar salaries.

By now, you are asking yourself, “what does this have to do with militaria or military collecting?” I ask that you give me a little latitude as I am getting to the heart of the subject.

As a member of the local aviation museum (which is one of the best in the nation), I occasionally attend functions that typically focus on the stars of military aviation. During these events, one or more figures make appearances where they interact with the audience, detailing or describing their escapades in aerial combat or flight operations in support of significant military historical events. The schedule typically follows the format of a presentation in the auditorium, followed by a question and answer session, then an opportunity for the “fans” to get an autograph.

Since I’ve been a member, I have had the opportunity to meet legendary veterans that were significant participants, authors of events that had considerable impact on the outcome of the war. From Marine Corps pilots of the Black Sheep squadron (VMF-214), “sled” (SR-71 Blackbird) drivers, Tuskegee Airmen, and countless Aces from WWII, the Korean and Vietnam wars. The roster of historical figures is nothing short of impressive. While the queue of autograph seekers isn’t small at these events, it pales in comparison to those seeking signatures of the multi-million dollar ballplayers.

Captain Donald K. Ross, Medal of Honor recipient (for his actions aboard USS Nevada on December 7, 1941) wrote this book about MoH recipients with ties to Ross’ adopted home state.

Is it fair to compare the two? I think it is when we consider the cost of service to our country, especially when one is deployed to a combat zone. The tour of duty isn’t limited to an eight-month season. The training is far more intense and exceedingly more difficult. While batting practice may have its risks (getting hit by a pitch or taking a foul off the foot or leg), ball players aren’t psychologically preparing to protect their own lives or that of their teammates.

Deployments are a far cry from the road trips of their Major League counterparts. Some are cooped up in cramped quarters aboard ship, have to sleep in fox holes, or seek shelter beneath a truck in the desert. Current soldiers, sailors and airmen can spend up to 16 months away from family with occasional access to phones or email for a momentary taste of home. During World War Two, some were in theater for years, on the front lines for months at a time with brief respites mixed in. Mail from home was only an occasional luxury, if at all.

The risks ball players face each time they step out onto the field are real – torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament ), rotator cuff tears, elbow ligament damage and in some rare cases, the risk of traumatic brain injury (TBI) from a wild pitch to the head. When compared to what our service men and women face – such as being shot; losing limbs, eyesight or hearing; and death – the multi millionaire athletes’ reality takes a significant backseat.

Another Marine Corps ace and Medal of Honor recipient, Major Joe Foss’ signature in his autobiography is a treasured addition to my collection.

Readers might suggest that my comparisons are patently unfair. My response is that the comparison is meant to provide focus on how we the collectors, place value and emphasis on athletes (and actors, musicians, etc.) over those who have sacrificed so much more. While in the area of autograph collecting, signatures from well-known veterans often command high prices on the resale market, lesser known vets or common military personalities get no attention.

Though he didn’t earn a valor medal for his service in the USMC during WWII, his personal accounts (told in both Ken Burns’ “The War” and Tom Hanks’ “The Pacific” television series) were remarkable. I was happy to receive his signed WWII memoir.

I used to obtain and collect signatures of ball players and amassed quite a collection. Unfortunately, most of the signatures were from prospects who never truly panned out, rendering the collection to more of a humble status in its value. I did manage to obtain some choice stars and hall of fame players. But to me, these pale in comparison to the other more significant inscriptions that I have obtained since I started focusing on veterans.

I doubt that most of the signatures have much in the way of monetary value to autograph collectors, but to me, they are priceless mementos of personal encounters with men who have “been there.” My collection contains autographs from 32 Medal of Honor recipients, two World War II Marine Corps Aces, several WWII, Korean and Vietnam war Navy Cross recipients, several silver star recipients, many prisoners of war and members of the famed “Easy” company (Band of Brothers) veterans and many more.

The personal sacrifices made by these men easily overshadow any significant achievement or career milestone attained by the greatest Hall of Fame baseball player…unless that player also happens to be a combat veteran (my collection contains a few of those signatures as well).

Navy Lieutenant Commander George Gay signed his autobiography in 1982. LCDR Gay was awarded his Navy Cross medal for his squadron’s torpedo dive bomber attack on the Japanese carrier, Kaga. He was the only member of his squadron to survive the attack (all were shot down, including Gay).

I didn’t intend for this posting to be a rant against ballplayers or those who enjoy collecting their autographs. My goal was purely to call attention to the value of those who willingly raise their right hand, swearing to protect this nation from all enemies, foreign and domestic and then proceed to do that very thing. Serving in the military tends to be a very thankless job and when the service member finally hangs up their uniform, there are no invites to attend any All Star weekends for autograph signing sessions.

I surrender my soapbox.

See Also:
Calculated Risks: Bidding on Online Auctions that Contain Errors

Gridiron Near the Trenches: Football During WWI

November 11, 2016 marked the 98th anniversary of the armistice between the allied nations and Germany bringing about a close to the Great War (later known as World War I). On this day, citizens and governments of those WWI nations will mark the end of the war and honor those who were lost during the four years that it raged (predominantly) in Western Europe. The national holidays for most of these nations are very similar in their traditions and in how they honor those killed in action. In the United States, we have long since departed from recognizing this war and the significance of November 11th is all but lost among our citizens. Instead of paying respects (in similar fashion to our WWI allies), we departed entirely from the meaning of this day, choosing instead to honor living veterans who served in the U.S. armed forces.

Coinciding with Veterans Day was the midway point of the National Football season. For two weeks, the NFL spent time honoring veterans with on-field pre-game and halftime ceremonies and festivities. Special sideline merchandise that incorporated military colors and camouflage patters was worn by players and coaching staff (in order to promote and sell special fan merchandise). The league also set aside time to bestow special awards to players and personnel who take their own time to honor and support U.S. service members, veterans and their families. For the casual observers, these activities appear to reflect the NFL’s commitment to veterans but the league is paid rather handsomely for these activities. Nevertheless, veterans and servicemen (and women) do have a passion for the game both as fans and for some who left the service to play and still others left the game to serve (here are a few notables).

The connection between sports (baseball and football, in particular) and the armed forces is lengthy (150 years for baseball and more than a century for football) which makes the NFL’s dedication to honoring those who served not surprising. Being present to see the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks render honors to a World War II hero (who was prominently portrayed in HBO’s award winning series, Band of Brothers) will be an indelible memory.

A fellow collector’s AEF football memorabilia - a program – 36th Division (1st Army) vs 7th Division (2nd Army) March 21, 1919; a football from a game between the 77th Division vs 81st Division teams; Football Championship Coin | First Prize – 86th Division.(source: Mark McCaffrey – Falls Creek Military Collectibles)

A fellow collector’s AEF football memorabilia – a program – 36th Division (1st Army) vs 7th Division (2nd Army) March 21, 1919; a football from a game between the 77th Division vs 81st Division teams; Football Championship Coin | First Prize – 86th Division.(source: Mark McCaffrey – Falls Creek Military Collectibles)

Well before I took a serious interest in militaria, I collected sports memorabilia. My primary interest, since I was a teenager, was just about anything baseball or football related – specifically, Los Angeles Dodgers or Los Angeles Rams. Growing up in the Northwestern United States during a time in which the region lacked both Major League Baseball and National Football League professional sports franchises, I  began following the (then) dominant teams that dominated national television networks’ programming, creating lasting allegiances and collecting focus. As a young adult on active duty in the Navy, I still maintained my loyalty to these two teams regardless of my ship being underway in local waters or on deployment.

Fostering my passion for history, I was led to delve into baseball’s past and the golden years of the game in the 1930s and 40s. I was very familiar with the sacrifices of the game’s stars as many would serve in front-line combat units and ships during the war. I was fascinated by these men who could have played baseball solely on service teams, avoiding combat altogether by serving as morale boosts for troops coming off the line or prior to heading into the fray. Until recent years, I was largely unfamiliar with professional football during its beginnings.

The NFL didn’t truly come into its own until recent decades, arguably taking over and holding onto the position as the national pastime from MLB. Prior to 1920, the game of football was predominantly a college sport. Little did I realize until recently that American football was played on French soil among the troops of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). I inherited several military pieces that belonged to my uncle (who served in WWI, WWII and the Korean War), including a few photo albums. One of the photo books was of his military service spanning his WWI service along with a few years following his discharge. The first several times scanning through the book,I didn’t pay much attention to the series of photographs that were beyond the subject of military activities. I focused my attention on the images showing my uncle in uniform prior to deploying and on through his return home from the war. I overlooked the others until years later.

From my uncle’s WWI photo album, this photo shows the gridiron surrounded by soldiers in full uniform. The action on the field is quite compelling as the ball carrier runs to the left for the goal line. Note the makeshift goal post in the background.

From my uncle’s WWI photo album, this photo shows the gridiron surrounded by soldiers in full uniform. The action on the field is quite compelling as the ball carrier runs to the left for the goal line. Note the makeshift goal post in the background.

A few years ago, I decided to scan some of the photos for use in a family tree project when I discovered a photo that I couldn’t take my attention away from. It showed a football game on a makeshift gridiron surrounded by doughboys in uniform. My curiosity was piqued. What was the story behind this game? Who were the participants? Was the war still raging at the time of the game?

I acquired a unit history book (F, 63*) that was published in 1919 detailing the exploits of my uncle’s artillery regiment during The Great War. Gracing the pages were several photos that were provided by my uncle (with photo credit), including a photo of the football game. The narrative failed to detail specifics about the game but a photo caption noted that the it was being played at St. Selve and that it pitted Battery B (of the 63rd CAC) and the 67th Infantry Regiment (Ninth Infantry Division) against each other. Based upon the linear arrangement of the photos (in context with the entire book), I surmised that the game was played following the signing of the Armistice.

Sadly, scant few details have been written about American football during the war and even fewer artifacts exist for interested collectors.

When I was a teenager, my father (a Vietnam veteran) always thought highly of Rocky Blier, who after his 1968 rookie season with the Steelers, was drafted into the Army and volunteered to serve in Vietnam. During his combat service and while on a patrol, Specialist Blier’s unit was ambushed. Taking heavy enemy fire, Rocky sustained a bullet wound in his leg, disabling him. Down on the ground, Blier sustained additional wounds when an enemy grenade exploded nearby sending shrapnel into his leg. While recovering (from his wounds) in Japan, he was told by doctors that his playing career was over. He went on to play ten seasons, including four championship seasons, all with the Steelers.


For my blog about Baseball in the military, see Chevrons and Diamonds.

*Ashton, John L., Sanford Martin, Fred J. English, Richard K. Beymer, and H. Victor Morgan. 1919. F, 63; being an account of the events and wanderings of that unit during the great war, 1917-1919.

Shredding History Part II – Severing the History from the Artifact

In part I of this series, I focused my attention on a transaction (hopefully the only one) between the National World War II Museum and Bands for Arms, discussing the handling of artifacts that had been donated to the museum by individuals. Part I is the catalyst for this series, but today’s could stand on it’s own.

With that ordeal between those two entities and the militaria collector community, it is debatable as to whether the collectors are actually happy with the results. While the artifacts in question were decided (by the museum staffer) to not have been World War II pieces, that doesn’t equate to them not being historically significant or valuable to militaria collectors.

This G-1 flight jacket belonged to Fred Losch (Capt. USMC), aviator of the famed VMF-214 (Blacksheep Squadron) is housed at the Museum of Flight in Seattle.

This G-1 flight jacket belonged to Fred Losch (Capt. USMC), aviator of the famed VMF-214 (Blacksheep Squadron) is housed at the Museum of Flight in Seattle.

In other areas of collecting, destroying an historic artifact for the sum of it’s parts is nothing new. Even within the area of military collecting it is still practiced — stripping uniforms of decorations, patches, buttons, etc. — yet it is frowned upon by purists.

To make this limited edition insert card, Donruss destroyed one full set of Babe Ruth’s road gray uniforms.

To make this limited edition insert card, Donruss destroyed one full set of Babe Ruth’s road gray uniforms.

Being a huge fan of major and minor league baseball, I dabbled in this arena of collecting, including baseball cards. My financial resources were limited so I had to collect within my means, focusing on certain aspects rather than any and all cards. I recall some card manufacturers in the 1990s launched into a practice of adding “insert” or special cards that were limited in production into their card sets making them rare and highly desirable among collectors. As the fervor increased with each new series or product line, so did the drive to make the insert cards more significant and create increased demand. This translated into significant revenue generation for the card companies.

I started to get disenchanted with sports cards at the point where they began destroying pieces of history for profit. Several card companies were acquiring rare artifacts (specifically, bats and uniforms) that were attributed to legendary ball players, cutting them into ¾-inch square pieces and mounting these into special insert cards. Imagine shredding a game-worn Babe Ruth jersey such as a 1920 Yankees road uniform top – which ultimately sold for $4,4m – into a few hundred little pieces. It has been done… several times.

Upper Deck carved up a road jersey worn by Hall of Fame player, Jackie Robinson.

Upper Deck carved up a road jersey worn by Hall of Fame player, Jackie Robinson.

Baseball players do wear a number of uniforms throughout a season – multiples of both home and road. Considering the typically lengthy Hall-of-Fame careers, these stars will don a considerable number of uniforms. For combat veterans who only served during a conflict, their uniform count will be significantly less. Veterans of World War II often returned with just the dress uniform they were wearing. When the war was over, these veterans either disposed of their military garb or stowed it away in the closet or attic.

To reiterate, militaria collectors do not take issue with veterans’ (or their families) decisions to donate their own uniforms to companies like Bands for Arms. What is difficult to contend with is the loss of the military heritage and connection to individual history through these uniforms. Would anyone imagine doing the same thing with a uniform from Medal of Honor recipient Sergeant John Basilone?

Private Herb Suerth (of “E” Company, 506 PIR, 101st A/B) “Ike” jacket on display at the Indiana Military Museum.

Private Herb Suerth (of “E” Company, 506 PIR, 101st A/B) “Ike” jacket on display at the Indiana Military Museum.

Would the band buyers rush to purchase a bracelet made from Major Richard Winters (of “Band of Brothers” fame) uniform? I’d imagine that bracelets made from these high-profile veterans would necessitate a boosted sale price, which would lead to a considerable amount of funds for the museum’s upkeep. But at what cost?

Advance to part III of this series!

Displaying the Diamond: Military Baseball Public Showing

I have been collecting militaria for several years. I enjoy seeing, touching and sometimes smelling these object of history. I have a couple items on full-time display in my home and I enjoy the ensuing conversation that is sparked by guests who take an interest. For the most part, my collection is hidden in my closet and boxes in various places within my home. However, this week I have been given the opportunity to share a portion of my treasures with a decidedly larger audience that the visitors to my home.

In my home state’s largest fair there is a considerably large facility that is used to showcase various hobbies that people participate in. There are several categories of hobbies represented ranging from wood and metal working, crafts and scrap-booking. Perhaps the largest portion of  floor space is dedicated to the various areas of collecting (coins, stamps, dolls, toys, clocks, etc.). In all my years of attending the fair, I can recollect one instance of a militaria collection displayed and that was last autumn (an amazing collection of armed forces nurse uniforms). From that moment, I was decidedly interested in sharing my significantly smaller (than the nurses display) collection the following year.

As I began to consider what I wanted to submit as an entrant to this year’s fair, I wanted to be more unique, more specific than simply presenting my collection of military uniforms. One area that I have been more focused upon in the past four years, military sports, has afforded me the opportunity to acquire items that span two genres of my collecting interests. Also, my collection has grown enough that a small display consisting of the mixture of types of pieces (uniforms, equipment, photographs and ephemera) would be quite tastefully displayed. With my concept decided, I began the process of submitting my collection.

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The fair committee does strive for diversity in what they like to have on display and while seeking to prevent repeating collections year after year, they also try to ensure that the spaces are completely filled. I started the two-part process (electronic submission, followed by a paper form and photographs) by completing the online form a week prior to the deadline. I downloaded the paper form and set it aside, forgetting it for several days and then resigning myself to wait until next year as the deadline arrived. The following week, my phone rang during my afternoon commute and I was asked if I could bring the paper form to their office within 48 hours and that they wanted me to display my collection. I was elated and excitedly agreed to complete the remaining elements of the submission process.

Two weeks later, I received the formal acceptance letter and exhibitor packet. Getting a head-start on determining what and how I would display my collection, I selected pieces and acquired the necessary accessories (mannequins, stands, etc.) to achieve a tasteful presentation.

Move-in day went smoothly and my display was finished within a few hours as a raging, late-summer windstorm howled outside.  All items carefully placed and locked into the cabinet, I snapped a few pictures and left for home. Overnight, the high winds were supplanted by terrible rainfall (three inches in just a few hours). Driving home from the fair the previous day, I remembered that I had one more piece that I wanted to display along with a few corrections to the information placard. I intended on returning in the early afternoon. When I turned my phone on, I discovered a harsh reality of displaying outside of my home. It seemed that the storm that blew in deposited a large quantity of leaves on the fair building’s roof clogging the downspouts as the rain (deluge) began to fall. The ensuing flood on the roof resulted in water penetrating the building and meandering its way into the display case that was housing my collection (mine was the only one affected).

The news was not good – some of my pieces were wet and the fair staff emptied my case to allow it to begin drying. When I arrived and saw the stained and crumbling ceiling tiles, I knew that the damage to my pieces would be considerable. Surveying my collection, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was very few pieces got wet and – the damage was simply moisture on one of the uniform trousers. The remainder of my collection was safe (and carefully removed from the case by the fair workers) which was a relief considering the ephemera (programs/scorecards from championship games) and photographs (some over 100 years old) were unaffected by the moisture. I was provided a secure space to store the dry items and I loaded what was wet and took it with me. My initial reaction to what happened to my collection was to load it all into my truck and forego displaying. As the current owner ans steward of these artifacts, I was concerned about further risk. Insurance can recoup the financial loss, but the history would be lost should any further harm befall these pieces.

I had to wait for another opportunity to return to put the display back together once the leaks were addressed. Later that week, my wife returned with me to assist and the display came together nicely. With a few changes (from the previous configuration) the final presentation turned out to be much more aesthetically balanced and pleasing. Rather than dominate my display with every piece of military baseball material that I own, I selectively chose examples that would inform the audience of the prevalence and impact that baseball has had on our culture, in particular, within the ranks of the armed forces.

The fair is set to open this week and the risk of loss is still present until I bring my collection home.  What I am learning is invaluable and is preparing me to recognize and consider the risks with clarity for future public showcasing of my collection. Through the militaria collector community I have heard the horror stories regarding theft and damage and I will factor those anecdotes (along with this experience) into future decisions. I am hopeful that the positives outweigh the detractors and the audience truly enjoys and appreciates what they are seeing. Fortunately, there is a feedback mechanism in place and the fair staff told me that it is very common for viewers to submit questions and reach out to the collectors.

It would be an absolute pleasure to hear from a veteran who donned a uniform, cap and spikes and took to the diamond for his unit!